Lauren Salkeld, photo by Lara Ferroni
There are so many reasons for banana bread's popularity. As a quick bread, it's not only easy to make, but fast. Banana bread is also one of the best possible uses for browning bananas -- you can even freeze your fruit and bake the bread later. There's also the recipe's flexibility and versatility: You can mix in nuts, chocolate, shredded coconut, dried fruit, and even spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves to customize your loaf. Finally, anytime is the right time for banana bread; it's just as good at breakfast as with an afternoon coffee or tea, or for dessert, drizzled with warm chocolate sauce.
Of course, the number one reason to love banana bread is taste. Good banana bread is sweet but not too sweet, moist without being oily or heavy, and most important, it delivers a strong hit of pure banana flavor. With these qualities in mind, we turned to Flo Braker, author of Baking for All Occasions and the former Baker columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, to create the ultimate recipe for classic banana bread. Braker's recipe puts banana in the spotlight, but if you'd like to add nuts or chocolate -- or both -- she has you covered. For Braker's foolproof recipe, plus expert advice on the ideal time to use bananas, using frozen fruit, and how to decorate the top of your loaf, read on.
Master the Banana Basics:While she does sometimes use frozen bananas, Braker prefers to bake with fresh ripe fruit. "The optimum time for incorporating bananas into this recipe is when their skins are mostly yellow with a moderate sprinkling of brown flecks," she explains. If you do freeze your bananas, store them in a double layer of plastic wrap or a resealable freezer bag (squeeze out as much air as possible), and arrange them so that they won't get too squished or bruised or stick together. Be sure to defrost the bananas until they are soft but not runny or liquefied--an hour at room temperature is plenty of time. The skin of frozen bananas will turn black but they're still fine to use. Just peel with your fingers or a knife. There may be some extra liquid when you add them to the batter, but this is also OK to include.
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Add Nuts, Chocolate, or More Banana:Braker's recipe can easily be dressed up with the addition of nuts, chocolate chips, or both. Use up to 1 cup of just about any nut -- walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, or Braker's favorite, hazelnuts. She recommends toasting the nuts first since it really helps bring out their flavor (they won't toast inside the batter). You'll also want to coarsely chop the nuts, because whole nuts and large pieces can make it more difficult to cut clean slices.
If you prefer to add chocolate, Braker recommends mini semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips. Regular-size chocolate chips are great, too, but the minis make it easier to slice the bread, explains Braker. Stick to 3/4 cup of chocolate chips; more than that and the chocolate will overwhelm the banana flavor. If you'd like to use a combination of both nuts and chocolate, use 1 cup total.
Another easy way to "doll it up," offers Braker, is to slice another banana crosswise into rounds -- this one has to be ripe, not frozen -- and then lay the slices on top of the batter before it goes in the oven. The visual effect is quite striking, but this trick also adds another layer of banana flavor and texture.
Bake a Double Batch: A simple recipe like this one can easily be doubled and the large batch will still fit in a standard 4 1/2-quart stand mixer. If you bake an extra loaf, wrap it in plastic wrap, followed by aluminum foil; it will keep, frozen, up to 3 months. When it comes to defrosting, Braker recommends unwrapping the loaf and putting a paper towel on top, which she says helps prevent moisture loss.
yield: Makes 1 (9- by 5-inch) loaf (about 12 servings)
active time: 20 minutes
total time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
See more: Indulgent, Delicious Breakfasts
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional flour for dusting pan
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 large or 3 medium bananas)
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional butter for greasing pan
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of 1 (9- by 5- by 3-inch) loaf pan and dust with flour.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a medium bowl, combine the banana, sour cream, and vanilla and stir to combine.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat on medium until completely incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the banana mixture and beat for about 30 seconds. Add the flour mixture in 2 batches, and stir on low until just incorporated, about 30 seconds total. Add the nuts or chocolate chips, if desired, and use a rubber spatula to fold them into the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf emerges clean and when you press gently in the center of the loaf, it springs back without leaving an impression, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to let cool for 10 to 15 minutes then gently tap the pan on the countertop to help release the loaf. Place a second rack or a large plate on top of the loaf, invert, and then carefully remove the pan. Use the original rack to invert the loaf again so that it's right side up then let cool completely before cutting and serving. DO AHEAD: Banana bread can be baked ahead, cooled completely, and kept, wrapped in plastic wrap, up to 2 days, or frozen, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil, up to 3 months.